The narrow Circuit de Monaco course is unlike any other track on the F1 calendar.
Overtaking is harder at the 94-year-old track than it is anywhere else, as drivers simply don’t have room to get past one another. The Monaco Grand Prix is a great test of driver skill, as there’s far less space to maneuver, but it is not a fan favorite.
In 2003, Juan Pablo Montoya won a version of the event that didn’t include a single overtake — one of just three F1 races since 1950 to share that dubious distinction. Two years ago, the only driver to get past another was Mick Schumacher, who stole a position from his own teammate on the first lap of the race.
Because getting past opponents at this race is so difficult, qualifying well is absolutely crucial. Since 1950, only 10 drivers have been able to win without qualifying in the top three. Teams that know how to orchestrate a quick pit stop are also in a good spot, as strong execution in the pit lane is one of the most reliable ways to jump opponents in a race in which overtakes are at a premium.
As a result, teams that set themselves up well on the starting grid and don’t waste time with their stops have a chance to excel in Monaco.
Outside of Red Bull, which remain in its own league, the team that fits that description the best this season is Ferrari. But there are some caveats to that statement.
Disastrous strategy errors cost the Prancing Horses a win at this circuit in 2022, despite qualifying first and second. No team has been more adept at getting in its own way over the past couple of years, and Ferrari can be tough to trust.
Ferrari’s top driver — and hometown hero — Charles Leclerc has also been snakebitten at this track, finishing just once in four attempts at the F1 level in his home country. He even snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Monaco as an F2 driver in 2017 due to a mechanical failure.
That said, Ferrari profiles as the team most likely to beat expectations Sunday. That’s largely because the Italian squad has been significantly better in qualifying than on the track thus far in 2023.
Putting aside the Azerbaijan GP sprint race, the positions Ferrari has held on the starting grid this season have been worth 113 points, and they’ve earned 67 from their finishing positions. The team with the second-biggest drop-off between their starts and finishes is Alpine — and that’s a difference of just 14 points.
In most contexts, it’s tough to interpret that information as good news for Ferrari, but the team is at its best in qualifying, which is what matters most in Monaco.
Ferrari has also been efficient in the pit lane. The team has made the fastest pit stop in three of the five races this season. Looking at their most direct competition, Mercedes and Aston Martin, they’ve had a clear edge.
Below are the three second-tier teams’ average stop times for each race in seconds — with the exception of the Australian Grand Prix, in which multiple restarts prevented regular pit activity.
Ferrari got the better of both of its top rivals in three of these four races and has demonstrated a significant edge over Aston Martin in particular. While an indefensible double stop cost them dearly last year, this time around, their acumen in the pit lane could be a weapon.
No other team has the same combination of fast qualifying times and quick pit stops to make them as obvious a candidate to pop Sunday as Ferrari, but there are a couple worth monitoring.
Alpine can’t claim strong pit-stop performance, but both Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly have produced top-10 qualifying results in three of their five races this season. The pair have also performed well at Monaco historically, combining for 35 points in eight starts.
Haas has also qualified well compared to its on-track performance, but that’s coming from a low baseline. Most of its gap comes from Kevin Magnussen’s surprising fourth place in the qualifying run in Miami.
From an individual driver standpoint, George Russell is one to watch. He has qualified in the top six in four of five races this year, and the point value of his starting position (49) outweighs the value of his finishes (34) by a significant margin. He should be able to get himself into a favorable spot and use Monaco’s narrow track to hold on — particularly if Mercedes’ new W14 upgrade makes a difference.